Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES November 18 Release

Review of Vintages Nov 18 Release
The Super-Tuscan Gift Parade and the Real Deals from the Southern Rhone

By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo, MS and Megha Jandhyala

The gift parade continues at Vintages as more big-name bottles march out onto Vintages shelves, this time focused on the Super Tuscans like Luce ($129.45), Luce Brunello ($165.95), Guado al Tasso ($198.95) (not tasted) and Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia ($79.95), the second wine of Ornellaia. These are beautiful wines that are well manicured for modern, international tastes — tidy, smooth, flavourful and distinguished, but not distinctive. They are gift wines that will express your magnanimous spirit and be highly appreciated, while being entirely safe. Gift away, but know they are allocated and hard to find.

So, let’s move on to more affordable and available realities. I turn your attention to the Southern Rhone Valley of France and Xavier Vignon, a flamboyant, intriguing and creative producer of several wines from the region, two of which were released Nov. 18, joining another two still at Vintages. Long-time readers will know I am a fan of the rounded and quite rich reds of the south of France. And I have long been a fan of Xavier wines as they capture the essence of their appellations in an amiable, approachable, almost glossy style. So, I happily accepted an invitation to dine with Xavier at Chantecler, a Parisien-styled bistro on Bloor West in Toronto that was hopping on a Monday night.


What sparked his intrigue with the southern Rhone Valley was his fascination with blending—the great, often misunderstood art of winemaking. In a world where single varieties and vineyards get the limelight, the idea of combining varieties, sites and vintages into a tapestry of elegance and complexity almost seems an ignored art. Every winemaker tastes and blends to a certain degree, whether vineyard blocks or barrels. But there are many regions where the blend is inherent to its identity and success. Champagne is one. Bordeaux is another. And French-born Xavier Vignon has made wine in both, as well as New World regions like, California, Australia and New Zealand, giving him “New World” perspective.

Another more overlooked, third blending region is the southern Rhone with several authorized varieties growing in a large, diverse geographic region. Châteauneuf-du-Pape famously has 13 authorized varieties. Imagine the complexity of putting together so many varieties, from so many different ‘terroirs” and growers. We are now talking about the “art” of winemaking, not the science. Xavier told me that in his early years (he is now early 50s) he would taste 600 samples a day to create his blends. He has slowed down now to about half that number, per tasting day.

Whether that is even humanly possible boggles, but it does reveal a certain passion, alarcity and acuity that, to me—who can taste review 50 wines per day—heralds a certain genius. And imagine knowing and assembling that many different growers, vineyards and wines in one region in one room. It reveals a certain obsession beyond passion.  

May I offer you Xavier 2020 Côtes du Rhone at $17.95 as an example. Of course, it does not have the depth of the top guns but my goodness it packs such complexity, warmth, authenticity and generosity for under $20. And I tasted a handful of other Xavier wines over dinner — not ideal circumstances for critical review — but they so nicely showed their appellations. There was an elegant, suave Gigondas (now available), an open-knit charming Lirac 2020 (coming in 2024) and a unique, intriguing 100-percent mourvedre called Arcane XV le Diable, also now on shelf. One hundred percent mourvedre is not authorized for AOP appellation status in the Rhone, but I loved that Vignon has made it anyway — open to new ideas and possibilities, which the Arcane name signifies.

But the king of the hill is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, of which there are several very good examples on shelf. The Xavier Vignon Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2019 is an excellent example of the complexity, power and sophistication that CDP can deliver. The name refers to the anonymity of the grapes in the blend, which include most of the 13 that are authorized. It too makes a very generous gift, for half the price of the Super Tuscans, and your recipients will love it.

There are other southern Rhone reds on the release that I also really liked: the Château Laval 2021 another fine value at the same price, and Domaine De Carobelle Vacqueyras 2021 from a village that makes some the region’s heftiest reds.      

And, by the way, a Vintages promotion offering 1000 Aeroplan points for every case of wines purchased from the “New Release Collection” is on until November 26. So, if purchasing new wines as gifts, find a way to make it a 12 pack, whether Super Tuscans or $18 Rhônes.

Now onward to other picks for this release. Michael was travelling (guess where…) and Sara was taking a very well-deserved non-wine, non-family break. So, we present extended notes from John, Megha and myself. Wines are listed in ascending price order within their style categories.

Whites & Vermouth

Cave Spring Estate Grown Chardonnay 2019

Cave Spring Estate Grown Chardonnay 2019, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment
$19.95, Cave Spring Cellars Ltd.
John Szabo – A 2019 Ontario chardonnay that is showing exceptionally well now (a terrific vintage for the grape), offering classic cool climate citrus and white-fleshed orchard fruit flavours in the style of Chablis. At the price, it’s a steal in the chardonnay world.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is an opportunity to try a fresh, focused, and well-made chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench at a very reasonable price. Intense flavours of lemons and crunchy green apples form its core while subtle notes of spice, cedar, and toasted bread give it dimension and nuance.

Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2022

Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2022, Mendoza, Argentina
$21.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Catena has worked very hard on chardonnay, with top tier, single vineyard very high altitudes sited making some the best in Argentina. An And there is trickle down quality in this larger volume, modestly priced example. It is very bright, generous and clean with lifted yellow apple/banana fruit, hazelnut, light toast and nutmeg. It is medium-full bodied, warm and creamy without being heavy.

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2022

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2022, Rhône Valley, France
$22.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – This is a lovely plump, bright and quite elegant blend o southern French white varieties like grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne. The nose is generous with complex tropical melon, apricot, starfruit with lavender, fennel and spice. It is open knit, almost hot and sweet-edged but well managed.
Megha Jandhyala – White Côtes du Rhône is relatively rare considering white wine makes up only a small percentage of production in this appellation, so I recommend trying this well-priced, balanced, and succulent example if the category appeals to you. I like its flavours of supple fruit and garrigue and find the elegant voluptuousness of its palate especially charming, its delicate fleshiness lifted and moved by lively acidity and a gentle undercurrent of salinity.

Marques Del Atrio 2 Cepas Blanco De Guarda Blanco 2019

Marques Del Atrio 2 Cepas Blanco De Guarda Blanco 2019, Rioja, Spain
$26.95, Christopher Stewart Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason – This white Rioja is made from high acid viura – the stock in trade white wine of the region – plus white tempranillo which is quite rare. It is an amiable, elegant and impressive white with textural gloss and finesse. The nose shows peach, honeysuckle and wood spice, Quite catchy!

Emilio Lustau Vermut Blanco

Emilio Lustau Vermut Blanco, Spain
$29.95, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – A premium, high quality example of white vermouth, like a visit to the herbalist, delicious on its own over ice, or use a healthy splash in a dirty gin martini with proper green olives. I like the salinity that underpins it all, very much like the sherries Lustau produces in the region.


Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva Garnacha/Tempranillo/Cariñena 2018

Monasterio De Las Viñas Reserva Garnacha/Tempranillo/Cariñena 2018, Cariñena, Spain
$15.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Monasterio is a reliable source of underpriced wines, here with a wash of savoury-spicy-herbal fruit flavours and smooth, sandy texture.

Château Mayne Vieil 2019

Château Mayne Vieil 2019, Fronsac, Bordeaux, France
$21.95, Terra Firma Brands
Megha Jandhyala – Finding good Bordeaux at an affordable price is often challenging, which is what makes this ready-to-drink Fronsac special. This merlot-based blend is supple, concentrated, and surprisingly layered, with a wide and appealing array of flavours.

Domaine Ferraud Les Charmes Morgon 2020

Domaine Ferraud Les Charmes Morgon 2020, Beaujolais, France
$24.35, Marchands Des Ameriques
David Lawrason – The 2020 is not as lean and mineral as some Morgons, or previous Ferraud wines, but there is appealing exuberance to the fruit with subtle gamay pepper and fine earth tone from ageing in old wood. It is  rounded and smooth, almost low in acidity with warming alcohol. Tannins are quite fine.

Planeta Plumbago Nero D'Avola 2019

Planeta Plumbago Nero D’Avola 2019, Sicilia, Italy
$24.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Textbook nero d’Avola from Menfi in western Sicily, with a peppery, black fruit-inflected nod to syrah, and that uniquely Sicilian, leathery, wild herb, saline marine breeze character.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a classic Sicilian nero d’avola, brimming with delicious plush red and dark fruit flavours, spice, and herbs. There is a sense of authenticity and openness here that I find charming.

Argento Single Vineyard Finca Altamira Malbec 2021

Argento Single Vineyard Finca Altamira Malbec 2021, Mendoza, Argentina
$26.95, Barrique Wine Imports Ltd. (Profile)
David Lawrason – This is the best Argento wine I have ever tasted. It goes to a single organic vineyard in the Altimira subregion of the southern Uco Valley. And it presents a lovely nose of mulberry/lingonberry jam, violet, sweet oak, fresh thyme and coriander. It is full bodied, dense yet balanced and texturally polished

Katogi Averoff Inima Xinomavro 2018

Katogi Averoff Inima Xinomavro 2018, Naoussa, Greece
$27.95, Kolonaki Fine Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – “Inima”, or “soul” is a pure xinomavro from the appellation of Naoussa in Macedonia, northern Greece, pouring here a pale-medium red garnet colour in the varietal idiom, and displaying the savoury, sun-dried tomato, black olive tapenade and dried red fruit and leather character of xinomavro. A wine to introduce to fans of Chianti Classico or Barolo, at an attractive price.
David Lawrason – This is a brisk, firm, tart-edged red with all kinds of red fruits typical of this variety – red currant, cranberry, strawberry – plus a pretty floral note. It is medium bodied, rather lean and almost juicy, with very good flavour intensity and excellent length.

Domaine De Carobelle Vacqueyras 2021, Rhône, France
$27.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – There’s plenty of fruit and spice off the top here in this plump and appealing southern Rhône red, a highly satisfying, well-made wine with above average complexity, ready to drink or hold 2-4 years.

Torbreck Woodcutter's Shiraz 2021

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2021, Barossa, South Australia
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – What a great expression of Barossa shiraz. It is heavy, very ripe, thick and borderline sweet, but there is such acuity in the flavours and poise on the palate despite its size. Expect very ripe mulberry/blackberry jam fruit with subtle Baroassa moss/earthiness, licorice and lavender. It is very full bodied, dense, sweet and compacted.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2020

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2020, Short Hills Bench, Ontario
$32.95, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
David Lawrason – This pale pinot shows ruby-garnet. There is a pretty floral note to the typical pint red fruits and forest floor.  It is light to mid-weight, quite supple almost silky and refined. The 2020 pinots are a bit lower in acid and rounder, but ripe with classic aromas and flavours. Quite charming.

Château Maucamps 2006

Château Maucamps 2006, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France
$37.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc
John Szabo – First tasted back in early 2021, I found the wine was drinking beautifully, and it still is today, evolving slowly, in a textbook left bank Bordeaux style. The 2006 vintage has turned out to be a delight for fans of classic, more elegant and refined vintages. An amazing value for mature, ready-to-drink, quality Bordeaux.
Megha Jandhyala – Cru Bourgeois wines often represent very good value, and for those who appreciate or are curious about aged wines, this example from Château Maucamps is no exception. It is drinking marvelously now – the many years it has spent in bottle having lent it integration, harmony, complexity, and a silken, finessed texture- yet it retains concentration, intensity, and vibrancy.

González Byass Beronia Gran Reserva 2015

González Byass Beronia Gran Reserva 2015, Rioja, Spain
$37.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Plush, ripe and forward, Beronia’s 2015 Gran Reserva is a sheer pleasure to drink now with its abundant ripe black fruit flavour, sweet but balanced oak, and supple, smooth texture – there’s little not to like about it. Drink or hold until the end of the decade.

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2019

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$44.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – This would make a fine holiday gift for wine loving friends who aren’t yet convinced about Ontario’s Bordeaux-style reds (are they still out there?), a rival to much from Bordeaux in the same price category, and above. I love the freshness, the well-integrated barrel spice, the pitch-perfect acid-tannin balance. A model of finesse and sophistication. Drink or hold a half dozen years.

Château Haut Simard 2016

Château Haut Simard 2016, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Bordeaux, France
$58.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – From the great 2016 vintage, Haut-Simard’s Saint Emilion is showing very well now, though there’s ample life ahead, another decade in a good cellar. Classy wine.

Xavier Vignon Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2019

Xavier Vignon Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2019, Rhone, France
$65.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
Megha Jandhyala -This plush and decadent Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with its soft, diffused warmth seems especially inviting in the cool, platinum-hued light of the winter sun. It is intense, practically dripping in flavours of poached red fruit, alongside pleasant notes of herbs and spice.

Montes Purple Angel 2020

Montes Purple Angel 2020, Colchagua Valley, Chile
$96.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants (Profile)
David Lawrason – With Purple Angel hitting the $100 mark, carmenere becomes a bona fide collectible from Chile. What I most admire is that it doesn’t try to bury carmenere’s natural herbaceousness. The nose has lovely purity and detail with blackcurrant, florals and herbs swaddled in oak spice and vanillin. It is full bodied, rich yet supple. The tannins are a perfect cloak. The length is outstanding!

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We have two more Vintages Release newsletters to come this year, plus our annual fizz guide in December that has attracted twice as many samples as in years past. We are tasting this week.


David Lawrason,
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Megha’s Picks

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